Vegan, Jane Austen student, Minimalist, Reader, Librarian

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Views on RMS Titanic

Music: Scott Joplin, The Complete Rags
RMS Titanic (Source: Wikipedia)

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the largest passenger ship of its day, on April 14, 1912. In light of this, several new books are being published and, with this post, I introduce a guest blogger, my good friend, James*, a fellow Titanic aficionado, who contributed the following review:

The Band that Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic by Steve Turner. Thomas Nelson, Nashville.  2011.

As with most books published in the twenty-first century, this one suffers from subtitle overkill. This is an interesting and inspiring story, but hardly extraordinary. As the author states, these eight men were average individuals earning a living. They were undistinguished in life, but famous in their deaths.

This is the first collective biography of the members of the Titanic's bands (there were two, so an added "s" in the title would have made for accuracy). The author appears to have done thorough research and claims to have uncovered all there is to know about this historic group. Even so, three of the members have documentable backgrounds so scanty their lives are lumped together into one chapter. 

Some interesting facts emerge from the overview of the lives of these musicians: only one was married, leaving only one widow from the group and two of them probably got women pregnant in the year before they sailed--those repressed Edwardians! We're so much more uninhibited now. Press frenzies were just as wild then, with one newspaper taking over an entire floor of a New York hotel prior to the Carpathia arriving with Titanic survivors.

While the book appears to be well-researched, several errors make me wary. In his preface, the author states he never read a book on the Titanic before undertaking this title; I can believe it. Concerning the trajedy, he makes the following statements:

--The iceberg sliced through the ship's hull like a "tin opener." It is pretty firmly established - and was proposed as early as 1912 - that only some rivets were popped and plate seams opened to the extent of 12 square feet.
--The ship could only float with two watertight compartments flooded. Theoretically it could float with four filled.
--The moon was bright. There was no moon, which helped contribute to the collision.

The author states he is more concerned with the musicians than the ship and, in this, he succeeds. The book is straighforward and very readable; a quick read. The photos are small and thus rather pointless, although it is interesting to see satellite dishes on the homes that the men lived in before they sailed.

At the conclusion, we are alerted to watch for the reappearance of bandmaster Wallace Hartley's violin around the time of the 100th anniversary of the sinking. Apparently it was found strapped to his body when it was recovered but disappeared after being shipped to England. If authenticated, it will be the most valuable Titanic artifact in existence.

This is an interesting overview of a specialized aspect of the Titanic.  While nothing new is uncovered, it is nice to see these eight brave men given their due. 

*James has been a librarian for over 30 years and has been a book reviewer for Library Journal for 16 years. His interests include architecture restoration and reading history and old fiction. 

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